Gardening for a Cause

Renee Shepherd — heirloom gardener, businesswoman, and cookbook author — gives back to her community through food, fundraising programs, and great advice when it comes to growing original plants.

| Winter 2012/2013

It’s no exaggeration to say Renee Shepherd’s passion is gardening. She gets as excited over a robust winter squash or an ancient variety of mint as many people do over sports. Not that she’s any stranger to sports, either.

In the 1980s she mowed a pasture next to her house to create room for a soccer field for weekly neighborhood soccer matches. The connections she made on the soccer field had a lasting impact on future events in her life.

One of the players who joined her Sunday soccer games was a Dutch seedsman, Case Boonman (now CEO of Chicago-based Ball Horticultural Company). Back then he represented a large Dutch vegetable seed company and shared a few varieties of gourmet garden seed with Renee, along with seed from his home country of the Netherlands and a few French heirlooms.

Renee was so impressed by the varieties, which were unlike anything being grown in the United States at the time, that she (literally) mortgaged her house and started a seed company. Shepherd is now widely known for being a pioneer in introducing unique specialty vegetables and herbs to home gardeners and gourmet restaurants.

Shepherd is a dynamo, constantly in motion. She's actively involved in her community, serving on the County Planning Commission, and hits the trail on her Quarter Horse, “Patches” whenever she can. The house she mortgaged to build the seed business is the same one she still lives in today, set on four acres just outside Santa Cruz, California.

Renee is almost as passionate about good food as she is about gardening. Her gardens are her inspiration and she’s always cooking up new recipes with her varieties, making jellies, sauces, pickles and anything else that strikes her fancy. Many of her recipes evolve into cookbooks — two so far, Recipes from a Kitchen Garden and More Recipes from a Kitchen Garden, with a third one on the way. 

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